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Sleep as the greatest medication

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People often do not link the coffee they had in the afternoon to their terrible night sleep, but caffeine has a half life (how long it takes for 50% to exit your system) of 5-7 hours, so the hormone that encourages sleep in your brain will still be fighting the caffeine molecules into the early hours of the morning. Caffeine is in many teas, energy drinks as well as medications. Also decaffeinated coffee, does not mean it contains no caffeine. If you are struggling to sleep it’s inportant to become very mindful of your caffeine consumption.

Getting 8 hours sleep a night is so essential to almost every mental and physical function. Seeing as we spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping it’s not surprising that it is the greatest medication and rejuvenation that we can give ourselves every day, as otherwise it would have been weaned out through natural selection. If you need caffeine before midday to function properly you are most likely masking your sleep depravation. If you didn’t set an alarm clock would you sleep past that time? If the answer is yes, this is a good indicator that you might be sleep deprived. Do you find yourself re-reading a sentence? This too is a sign your brain is sleep deprived.

Every night we experience sleep cycles and at the beginning of the night you experience more NRem sleep which weeds out connections that we do not need, While Rem sleep is in a higher percentage later on in the sleep cycle and this strengthens pathways and memories. Thus, by either going to bed late or waking up early you are shortchanging your brain out of the full benefit of one of those key processes and the likely result is that of physical and mental complications. I have found a book on audible called ‘Why we Sleep’ by Matthew Walker fascinating to understand the sleep cycle and functionality of sleep. He states that “when it comes to sleep, there is no such thing as burning the candle at both ends, or one end, and getting away with it”.

Sleeping pills, like alcohol, sedate you and do not allow natural sleep cycles and do not consolidate memory to the same extent and have been suggested to in fact erase them. They also lead to cycles of sleeping pills – next day grogginess – increased caffeine intake – more sleeping pills – it often perpetuates the insomnia. This is in addition to rebound insomnia when you stop the medication, due to withdrawal.

Some things that people find useful if they are struggling to sleep:

Avoid caffeine (including chocolates), nicotine (this is a stimulant and can result in waking up early) and alcohol (this keeps you in the light stages of sleep and results in waking up as alcohol wears off).

Decelerate mental activity before bed- ie. Don’t work right up until sleeping or do anything increasing thoughts, anxiety, or heart rate. A relaxing activity like reading, listening to music should be part of your bedtime.

Increase your physical activity per day, but two to three hours before bed. But it’s often been found that sleep has more of an influence on exercise than vice versa. A sedinentary life has a large effect on quantity and quality of sleep.

Have a cool room and darkeness. Also ear plugs and an eye mask can be useful.

Have sun exposure, it’s key for sleep patterns. Try to get morning sun.

Set a regular bed time and wake up time, even on weekends no matter what – most significant one. Set an alarm for bedtime.

Avoid sleeping on sofa in the evening and daytime napping if you are struggling to sleep at night.

Prevent clock watching anxiety at night by removing clocks.

Some medications you might be taking  might effect your sleep patterns so it’s worth checking with your GP.

Set an alarm that deprives you of sleep slightly, so that a hormone that encourages sleep builds up over time. Limit to 6 hours for example.

Avoid going to bed too full or hungry and avoid a bias towards sugar and carbohydrates.

No use of phones 45 mins before bed

No use of social media before bed

A hot bath before bed with candles and dimmed lights.

The ‘Head Space’ App for Sleep

Peppermint tea

Listening to podcasts, audio books, David Attenborough or Blue Planet. I in fact found that listening to the audio book mentioned above on sleep strangely sent me immediately to sleep at night or if I was struggling to sleep in the early hours.

If you work from home or work for yourself, why not try and be attuned to what your sleep cycle is, are you a ‘morning lark’ or ‘night owl’? Why not allow yourself to fall in line with your sleep cycle, you will feel better for it.

Then obviosuly I would recommend therapy over sleeping pills for continued improved sleep and to avoid the side effects of sleeping pills.

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